The Ravenna inland area is flat. The first hills of the Romagna Apennines are too far away to provide a backdrop to our gaze, to the cultivated fields, to the fog.
And it is as if the sea – if it were not for the seagulls – had been forgotten inside the dimension of an abstract idea, which gradually, over the centuries and millennia, has distanced itself from the earth and slowly, contemptuously become withdrawn. The plain poses no limits to thinking. They say that those who were born here, and breathe this atmosphere, are prone to fantasize about distances, to cultivate dreams and silences, to invent stories, to meditate, possibly to pray.
In these travels of the gaze and mind, the Sant’Apollinare in Classe bell-tower is a fixture: the lighthouse of visionary routes. From the famous basilica, the eyes of Byzantine mosaics look far away and elsewhere, beyond the plain, across time and earthly events, beyond life.
I have thought about those fixed and hieratic eyes – which preserve in the glass pieces the sacredness of ancient artisan gestures – when looking at Onorio Bravi’s faces. A procession of repeated faces, of the same size, shape, with the same obstinate search, inner more than stylistic, though different in terms of colour, of the expressive anguish, of the brushstrokes, violent and sweet, and with different restlessness gradients. They are paintings on small wooden tables, because the canvas would be ill suited for the aggression of brushes pressed with strength, with a stiff bristle, sometimes held like weapons in a hand-to-hand fight with painting, without interruption, without pauses as long as the emotion lasts. I am a painter and I know the smell and the friction of coloured mixtures, the oxide and earth clots, and I recognize, in Onorio’s paintings, the heartbeats, the pauses and the slowing down, the booming earthy purple, the hope of an ultramarine blue not yet overcome by the dark blue of Prussia, the pink caress painted with frayed brushes, the wrong way, lightly, to steal from the anguish a little happiness, though restrained, in order not to give way to seduction, to the wish to decorate, which is not a crime, as Loos suggested, but only a small well-deserved prize which painting offers to those who can paint. The background colour participates in the expression of the traits, exalts it through light contrasts, harmonies or calibrated dissonances, also through stridencies, when necessary. A shrill yellow, framing a face, looks like the modern and secular version of the golden background of a fourteenth-century icon.
The painting instinct solves with expressive language every formal issue, certainly in a cultured way, but also with that slightly naive, popular and mystic attitude which detracts nothing from the skill of the trade; on the contrary it certifies true inspiration. It is natural to perceive those portraits like self-portraits – all painters do nothing but paint themselves – any possibly they are, because Onorio becomes one with them: with their pictorial essence, with matter, with their obsession, not in the outer likeness.
In actual fact, the faces he paints are icons of today’s humanity, suffering and multi-ethnic, lost in the general commotion, unable to communicate, stranger to itself but not resigned and possibly involved in a hopeful dream. In the dreamlike fantasy of painting a new “commitment” is welcome.
To end this short texts, pictorial more than literary, - but for a painter words are like colours and I would not be able to use them otherwise – I will allow myself an act of creative piracy: I shall dedicate to Onorio Bravi thirty-eight words “intercepted” in the order in which they appear in the text by Janus, profoundly beautiful, and transcribed here in the form of a poem. Misappropriation, theft, but also I hope, a tribute to both.